Monday, February 27, 2006

The New Bush Defenders: the LA Times?

I mean just the thought of it is incredible enough. The LA Times has earned it's reputation as one of the more liberally slanting newspapers, but in a recent series of editorials, it has nicely skewered the left's criticism of the Dubai Ports World issue, including a few very choice comments for California's own US Sen Barbara Boxer(d).

The issue should have died out, as the truth of the proposal became clear. Indeed, as noted by Sister Toldjah, many conservatives have begun changing what was a nervous and skeptical mindset into growing support as the facts begin to be made clear. No, the Arabs have not taken over the mightiest ports in America. Swarthy men are not unloading our ships and planting suitcase bombs in our imported toasters. The Teamsters and Longshoremen still control the loading, the Company only over sees logistics. Customs and the Coast Guard still maintain security.

The Democrats however, seeing this as a pollsters cash cow have tightened their gripe on the misinformation machine and have jumped on their band wagon with all gun's firing. And people are buying their fear tactics. Barbara is one of the many fear slongers seeing this as a Golden Ticket.

The facts are simple, this is a non story. Even the UAE has respectfully asked for a delay and review just to appease nervous xenophobes.

(See here for a good collection of informative links on the disinformation:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-ports22feb22,0,4937386.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials

Port hysteria

WHEN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TAKE homeland security seriously, it's a welcome development. Unfortunately, Tuesday's bipartisan hissy fit over the Bush administration's approval of a Dubai company's $6.8-billion deal to manage six important U.S. ports is neither serious nor welcome.

At first glance, Dubai Ports World's acquisition of the British-owned Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. looks troubling: Do we really want a company from the United Arab Emirates, one of the only countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, acting as the maritime gatekeeper for New York, Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore and Newark, N.J.?

After all, ports could be appealing and vulnerable targets for terrorists, handling about 2 billion tons of freight each year, only 5% of which receives close inspection. The remaining containers are vetted through an informal process that emphasizes faith in "trusted shippers."

The problem is that blocking the Dubai deal wouldn't do a thing to change any of that. It only provides members of Congress an opportunity to talk tough and pander to the terrorism-rattled xenophobe in us all.

Dubai Ports World, like the foreign companies that already run the majority of key U.S. ports; including 80% of the terminals in Los Angeles; does not own the points of entry. It is a contractor that coordinates logistics. And most important, it's not in charge of security. (emphasis mine) Port operators work with U.S. security officials (port police, the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security) in charge of preventing terrorism.

This week's hubbub diverts attention from a pressing and genuine debate over what those agencies really need to do to keep our commercial harbors safe. Compared to airport security, port security is woefully underfunded and undeveloped.

A paper written by former Coast Guard Cmdr. Stephen E. Flynn in the current issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review calls the system a "house of cards." Flynn argues that any terrorist worth his salt could simply seek out a well-known "trusted" shipper's containers to stash his deadly contraband. He calls for a slate of inspection-oriented reforms, including the adoption of better screening technologies.

Who owns the companies that operate the ports isn't the point; it's how those companies work together with federal and local authorities to keep ports safe. And the Department of Homeland Security has a long way to go before it figures out how best to get that done.

To be fair, congressional calls for transparency in the bidding process make sense. And any attention paid to port security is better than none at all. But by focusing on the nationality of a respected ports operator, instead of scrutinizing questionable policies or providing tangible suggestions for making the nation safer, members of Congress have once again shown their unerring knack for irrelevance when it comes to matters of homeland security.

Just on that basis I was standing up cheering (embarassing really, I was at work...), but this next one is better yet:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-ports26feb26,0,6772402.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials

Boxer's rebellion

EVEN AS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION promotes free trade and economic growth as a counter to extremism in the Middle East and elsewhere, some members of Congress appear determined to send a different message: America is happy to use your nation as a staging ground or refueling station for its military adventures, but we don't trust you enough to trade with you. And among the members of Congress conveying this impression most loudly is the junior senator from California, Barbara Boxer.

Dubai Ports World, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, agreed last week to delay the acquisition of the U.S. terminals included in its purchase of a British cargo operations company while the administration gives Congress time to study the deal. Too much delay, or outright rejection, would tarnish this country's international reputation, but that's nothing compared to the damage that could be wrought by the ongoing hysteria in Congress.

No one can dispute that the UAE is a key ally, that the deal has been vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and that it would have no effect on government security operations at the six ports where Ports World would run terminals. The objections to the deal are more rooted in a general mistrust and lack of confidence in the Bush administration.

As well-founded as these concerns may be, they're not the kind of thing that is addressed through legislation such as that proposed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Their bill would block companies owned by foreign governments from buying U.S. port operators. If that's what they're really worried about, then they're too late. Some of the world's biggest shipping companies, including China Ocean Shipping (better known as Cosco) and Singapore's APL, both of which have a major presence at California ports, are government-owned. Many of the rest have complex relationships with their home governments, making it very difficult to determine which are state-owned.

This brouhaha is reminiscent of 1998, when Cosco proposed moving from its berth at the Port of Long Beach to a shuttered naval station on the other side of the port that was being converted to a container terminal. Congress, fearing the company was a front for Chinese spies, scotched the deal.

It remains mystifying why anyone would consider a closed naval station, its buildings demolished and equipment long gone, to be a more effective platform for spying than Cosco's present terminal. But opponents of the Cosco deal, mostly Republicans, won a political victory over the Clinton administration.

Now there is a Republican in the White House, and of all the grandstanding surrounding the Dubai Ports World deal, none tops Boxer's performance. She said last week that she would support legislation preventing any foreign firm, state-owned or not, from buying port operators. Memo to Boxer: 13 of the 14 container terminals at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, the biggest port complex in the U.S., are run by foreign-owned companies. (emphasis mine) She later told The Times that she meant such deals should get greater scrutiny, not be banned. Still, this is the sort of proposal one would expect from a senator from a land-locked state like Vermont, not one where international trade plays a vital role in the economy. The Clinton-Menendez bill, which Boxer is backing, would do little more than disrupt port operations and attract international protest.

Boxer had a more enlightened view in 1998, when she supported the Cosco move. She now borrows a line from George W. Bush and says the world has changed since 9/11, but that still doesn't explain why she supported terminal operations run by a foreign government-owned company eight years ago but now distrusts any foreign operator whether it comes from a country involved in terrorism or not.

One possible explanation is that the Cosco deal was heavily backed by a Democratic administration, while the Dubai Ports World deal is heavily backed by a Republican administration. But that would mean Boxer is working against the interests of her state in order to score cheap political points. She would never do such a thing. Would she?

Next thing you know they will accuse her of being a partisan hack...what? Oh yea, they did, didn't they?

With the immense disinformation campaign, the blatant hypocrisy of the politicians, and liberal pundits practically wetting themselves at the thought of the fall of the Bush Dynasty, it's good to see that even the LA Times looked the situation over, found the simple truth, and said "Enough!"

UPDATE:

Sister Toldjah posted on this this morning also, noting how politics indeed makes strange bedfelloews. She noted that The Washington Post's Richard Cohen now supports it, and the NY Times has an OP ED piece from Nick Kristoff also in favor of it (paid reg req).

Strange times indeed...